Bob Fitzsimmons was a high school freshman when he started working part time for the Rolla Daily News in 1956.
His main job was to set type for the metal plates newspapers used in those days, but he also helped out in the circulation department. One day, when the paper’s photographer abruptly quit, the teenager found himself with a new responsibility. “Ed Sowers (the publisher) handed me a camera and said, ‘Now you’re a photographer, too.’”
Maybe the veteran newspaperman recognized a hidden talent in the young typesetter. It’s more likely that Fitzsimmons happened to be in the right place at the right time. Whether by design or by accident, Fitzsimmons – or “Fitz,” as he is better known – parlayed that sudden responsibility into a lifelong photography career, and a 45-year avocation as the official photographer for St. Pat and his Court.
Fitzsimmons was still on the newspaper staff in 1960 when he was first assigned to cover St. Pat’s. Soon thereafter, MSM employee Jack Tryon, the St. Pat’s advisor at the time, told Fitzsimmons and RDN news editor/photographer Darrell Bradford that the court could use some help chronicling each year’s events for posterity. Tryon asked the two newsmen to fill that role, and they agreed. (A few years later, the pair left the newspaper to form Bradford and Fitzsimmons Photography in downtown Rolla.) Fitzsimmons took over sole responsibility in the mid-1980s.
“I wanted to capture kind of a history of it all,” says Fitzsimmons.
And that’s exactly what he did. From 1961 through 2005, Fitzsimmons saved his vacation days to spend them with the court every March. Although he’s known as the “official” photographer, there was never any kind of formal agreement between Fitz and the court. “They just kept coming around every year and saying, ‘Well, you’re doing it again this year, aren’t you?’ and I said, ‘Yeah. Why not?’ They always treated me like a king.”
Or if not a king, at least as one of their own. Fitzsimmons was chosen to become an Honorary Knight of St. Patrick in 1996.
Wherever the court was, Fitz was there, too. In the early days, he snapped black-andwhite photos with “an old four-by-five Graflex” large-format camera, then moved in the 1960s, and to digital photography by 2003. He’s photographed the court official poses – standing with chancellors, local business and community leaders, annual Queen of Love and Beauty fair ladies of the court. He’s also photographed the court in many unofficial – and embarrassing – venues and circumstances. He’s captured the pageantry of the knighting and coronation ceremonies, the zaniness of Alice, the “wild and crazy” parties, parades, the arrival of St. Pat and many other occasions. At the end of each year’s celebration, he turned the photos over to that year’s court, so he has no incriminating evidence to share. He did, however, share a few photos from some of the more public events.
Fitzsimmons retired from his service to St. Pat in 2005. “I talked to the guys and told them I can’t hang like I used to,” he says. He turned the responsibilities over to Jasyn Randazzo (better known as “Dozzle”), EE/CompE’02. But don’t be surprised to see Fitz at the centennial in March.